Results tagged ‘ Tigers ’

Why Exactly Are We Moving Out Of Here Again?

b04c3acb-5040-499b-914d-21abe2ed58f7.jpgWell folks, here we go again!!  As common as .500 baseball has been for the Twins over the past two or three seasons, just as common has been incredibly inspired late-season play. 

After taking the first game in this playoff-like Dome series against the Tigers last night thanks to the brilliant pitching of Brian Duensing, the Twins needed to keep the momentum going this afternoon and did so in spectacular fashion.

For the first seven innings, this game was the tightest of pitchers duels, with Carl Pavano’s hex on the Tiger bats matching Justin Verlander’s 99 mph heater.  Both teams got a run early, and the Tigers scored again in the third to go up 2-1, a score that would hold until the bottom of the eighth inning.

Really, though, the momentum in this game began to shift in the top half of that inning.  With Pavano out of the game after having pitched incredibly well, the ball was given to the ever-shaky Jesse Crain…who proceeded to get three quick outs on just eleven pitches (I probably should heap the credit on Crain tonight, as somewhere along the line I will be quick to jump all over him a bit later).

Of course, things didn’t look all that bad for Verlander in that fateful eighth to begin with, as Punto struck out and Span hit one of his patented singles to land on first.  Orlando Cabrera then lifted a lazy fly ball to left field that Don Kelly, who had been put into the game as a defensive substition just an inning previous, easily had measured…until he didn’t, of course, and the ball dropped to put runners on second and third.  With opposing teams only having to deal with those kind of Dome Balls for five more contests, the baseball gods must be getting their money’s worth.

Joe Mauer was intentionally walked to load the bases, but Jason Kubel promptly doinked a single into left that scored both Span and Cabrera to give the Twins a lead.  That was the end of the night for Verlander, but the firemen didn’t do much better, as Brandon Lyon quickly served up a three-run jack to the suddenly red-hot Michael Cuddyer to give the Twins a 6-2 cushion, which would amount to the final score.

For the first time in quite awhile, I am seriously considering watching the Twins over the Vikings tomorrow afternoon.  I usually award that time-slot to the footballers due to their once-a-week status, but there is just too much excitement emanating from the Metrodome right now to turn away!  Since the Vikes start at noon and the Twins’ opening pitch is 1:10, I’ll at least have a bit of time to see how the Vikes game is going (maybe they’ll be beating the Lions so badly it won’t even be a decision!).

Preview (76-72, 2nd, 2.0 GB DET): Nate Robertson (1-2, 5.35) vs. Scott Baker (13-8, 4.35).  Basically, this game could decide the season.  A win pretty much evens things up, while a loss likely means that perfection will be needed down the stretch.

Big Mo (And The Loss Of)

momentum.jpgYou know, the more I watch sports, the more I begin to realize that the concept of “momentum” is almost as important as concepts like “talent” or “good coaching”.  I mean, just think about this for a second.  Heading into Wednesday of last week, the Twins were riding high having won 14 out of 17 or something, and looking to finish off a sweep of the White Sox at the Dome.  Then, Joe Nathan heartbreakingly blows a save, and everything comes crashing down, as Detroit goes on a terror (they never seem to lose anymore) and the Twins drop two of three to the Indians.

Now call me crazy, but I truly believe that had Nathan thrown one more key strike and finished off the Sox in that fateful ninth inning, the Twins would NOT have collapsed against the Indians and might still be in the thick of things in the AL Central race, not just scoreboard watching and needing to sweep the Tigers twice in the next few weeks to have any hope of the postseason.  I know that major leaguers are professionals and should be able to play every game on an even keel, but for what it’s worth, I doubt that ever actually happens (unless said players are in a rare mindset personified by guys like Derek Jeter or Tiger Woods).

Just look at it from a fan’s perspective…one day, we’re riding high and excited about the Twins after nearly giving up on the season two weeks previous.  Now, after the events of just a few more days, we’re starting to give up again.  You can’t tell me that the players don’t feel some of those same feelings, pondering the “what-ifs” and getting down just like “us”.

Just a theory, but would explain the rollercoaster play of the Twins for the past three seasons, as young guys are very excitable and prone to those ups and downs.

At least the Twins were able to get a Labor Day victory today, thanks to a big first inning and a strong bullpen picking up Jeff Manship.  Oh, and Nathan dominated the ninth…

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Preview (69-68, 2nd, 6.5 GB DET): Brian Duensing (2-1, 3.81) vs. Ricky Romero (11-7, 4.15). Maybe we can get Big Mo back with a good series in Toronto (after collapsing there last fall).

Never Gonna Give You Up

(Okay Family Guy fans, have your laugh now…out of your system?!)

You know, I almost started this post by talking about how my expectations for the Twins have changed and how we should start watching them purely “for love of the game” and not expect them to be in any sort of pennant race. But then, I got to thinking about those poor fans in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and a few other cities around the MLB circuit that haven’t had anything break right over the past decade (or more) and would love to be competing in any race of any kind right now. Do I think the Twins will win the AL Central? No. Especially not after those two horrible series’ against KC and Cleveland, teams that supposedly give us the advantage over Chicago the Detroit down the stretch. But do we still have a chance? However slim, yes we do, and that is the way I look at it (or at least am trying to, anyway).

I think that the past three seasons (’07-’09) have proven that only so many things can break right for a small-market organization. In the early part of this decade, the Twins were reborn as a competitive team thanks to a lot of young talent peaking at the same time. A few years later (’05-’06) the team was still able to contend because of our ability to make steals of trades and keep calling up effective players from the minor leagues. The last three years, though, has seen a complete reversal. The farm system is beginning to get tapped out (they may still be decent, but not like the talent of years ago), and the trades (Bartlett/Garza for Young) haven’t been going our way. Plus, the terrible economics of a no-salary cap sporting structure forced the Twins to lose guys like Torii Hunter and Johan Santana, keystones of the franchise.

That being said, the Twins still have a pretty good nucleus of young talent (Mauer, Morneau, Kubel) that can win in the future, but the trick will be keeping them together. One would hope that Mauer (the biggest fish who needs to be landed and mounted behind home plate) can see that and will elect to stay with his hometown team, but nothing is guaranteed in this game.

Thus, the Twins’ goal for the last month and a half of this season is to be as competitive as possible to show our young talent that this is a team that can seriously compete again in the future. That starts tonight against Texas, who is currently leading the AL Wild Card standings and thus will be a tough team to beat on the road. However, if there is one thing I never underestimate about a Ron Gardenhire-coached team, it is their ability to come back in the face of severe adversity. Just when you think this is about to happen…

…the Twins will do something crazy like sweep the Rangers and get back in the thick of things.

Preview (56-61, 3rd, 3.5 GB CWS): Francisco Liriano (5-11, 5.39) vs. Tommy Hunter (5-2, 2.26).

Open Mouth…Insert Foot

foot%20in%20mouth.gifLast night, I gave up on the Twins and expoused about how they would not win the division. I should have figured that something like this would happen (not that I’m complaining!). First, I complained that the Twins’ bats need to be perfect in order to beat their competition, and usually have no chance against the elite hurlers in the league. So, what happens when facing Justin Verlander…
28aee4e1-c8a1-4341-bd0b-ad25485e6842.jpgWell, let’s see…every Twins batter gets at least one hit, Denard Span gets five, Orlando Cabrera extends his hitting streak, and Joe Mauer hits home run #20 on the season en route to scoring 11 times (five off the flamethrower in six innings). Pitching-wise, I didn’t give Carl Pavano any love, and he was facing a potent Detroit lineup…

cc25d56d-a787-4090-acc0-63d571ea5c75.jpg Well, how about seven shutout innings on just five hits.

The message of the night?  Following the Twins the last few years has been like riding on one of these…

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Preview (54-56, 3rd, 2.5 GB CWS): Scott Baker (9-7, 4.59) vs. Jarrod Washburn (8-7, 2.93)

Good Deal

Well, for the first time since Shannon Stewart was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays back in 2003, the Minnesota Twins finally pulled the trigger on a mid-season addition, this time in the form of A’s shortstop Orlando Cabrera:

130984_Athletics_Rangers_Baseball.jpgPersonally, I think this is a GREAT move for the Twins to have made, as Cabrera plays great defense and hits, at .280, rougly 70-80 points better than Nick Punto on any given day. Plus, he is on a terror with the bat (.377 this month) right now, so maybe we’re getting him just when he is starting to peak this year.

Back in ’03, when Stewart came on board, the Twins miraculously went from a team almost out of contention, to one that won the division almost going away. It’s amazing what a little excitement (from a big trade) can do for the players on a team. Shannon brought the leadoff presence that year, while now Cabrera brings offense out of the #2 hole in the lineup (exactly what we need).

What will be interesting is how Harris, Casilla, and Punto will be used now that Orlando is in town. Harris was terrible at the second sack last year, but can (and will) play third when (not if, unfortunately) Crede needs to be out of the lineup. That leaves Punto and Casilla at second, and assuming Gardy doesn’t stroke out in the near future, we all know what that means (although batting ninth, one is probably just as good as the other).

By the way, I attended the first two Twins/Sox games at the Dome earlier this week, and really, is there any better feeling than sweeping the Sox?! Hey, maybe we can give the Angels a little payback this time around now that Cabrera is on our side!

Other deadline deals:

-Victor Martinez is on the verge of going to the Red Sox.

-Halladay is still a Jay (two minutes to go!)

-Tigers acquired starter Jarrod Washburn

Preview (52-50, 2nd, 2.0 GB DET): Ervin Santana (3-6, 7.29) vs. Nick Blackburn (8-5, 3.75). No Cabrera yet tonight, but Blackie might not need him.

Thoughts From The First Two Games

A few random thoughts from the first two games of the current Twins-Tigers series:

-Though going 16 innings and losing is bad enough for players and fans alike, I really can’t pin the blame on anyone in particular.  The Tiger bullpen was just throwing gas, and the Twins’ batters were (by and large) having decent at-bats.  They just couldn’t string enough hits together to get that elusive run across the plate.

-The Twins showed a little moxie today after Liriano gave up the big fly to Magglio Ordonez to give the pinstriped ones their short-lived lead.  In a game that needed to be won, the Twins came up with some clutch at-bats and were able to get the job done.  Now, we just need to take care of business tomorrow and things will be okay again.

-I never like to see a pitcher like Kevin Slowey go on the disabled list, but hopefully this will give him some time to either: A. get his wrist checked out, or B. get his mind right and back in that groove he had been in until a week or so ago.  Swarzak can probably fill in decently for Slowey, but we need Kevin back to his Brad Radke-esque form, where he can pitched deep into games and always give us a chance to win.

-I really think that Denard Span and Carlos Gomez need to stop fighting over outfield assists.  Eventually there is going to be a nasty train-wreck out there if they don’t get on the same page.  I think the problem is that both players, being center fielders by natural position, are used to calling off all other fielders (usually the CF’s perogative) to catch the ball.  However, Span is playing out in left alot recently, and in the back of his mind he probably knows that Gomez doesn’t take the best routes to balls but will scream for the catch anyway.

-Former Cubbie star Mark Grace was showing some serious love for the M&M boys today in the FOX TV broadcast.  Well-deserved, too, as they contributed to most of the scoring.  I look forward to watching them in the All-Star Game (which the roster for will be released tomorrow, by the way).

-Finally, today’s Fourth of July holiday also marks the 70th anniversary of Lou Gehrig giving what is now famously known as his ‘Luckiest Man” speech.  I know that the Iron Horse was second-banana to The Babe for so many years, but in that moment he showed what was truly in his heart all that time…kindness, gentleness, yet a competitive spirit that made him choked up over being taken out of a lineup when he was actually dying.  It still gives me goosebumps every time I see it.  Greatest first baseman of all-time?  Yes.  Is there really any other serious competition?!

-Of course, for a little lighter holiday fare, you could check out the annual SciFi Channel Twilight Zone marathon.  Still a creepy show all these years later!

Preview (42-40, 2nd, 0.5 GB CWS for 2nd): Rick Porcello (8-5, 3.90) vs. Nick Blackburn (6-4, 3.10).  Need to win this series…that is all.

Wow…That Was Fun!

CelebrateGoodTimes.jpgGlen Perkins had another terrible start.

Luis Ayala gave up more runs.

Matt Guerrier initially blew it.

Jesse Crain is done.

Greatest game of the season so far!

Frankie 2006 vs. Frankie 2009

A week or so ago, Jim Souhan (a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper) wrote an article about how the “2006″ Francisco Liriano (with the essentially unhittable slider) will never return, but maybe the current version can recreate some of that success.  The article can be found here:

http://www.startribune.com/sports/twins/43931992.html?elr=KArks:DCiU1PciUoaEYY_4PcUU

After reading the article, although I know that Souhan was just trying to “tell it like it is”, I really didn’t think that Souhan was making a fair comparison.

 

Liriano6.jpgIn 2006, Liriano came up from the minor leagues and absolutely sent the league on fire.  His stats were incredible (12-3, 121 IP, 144 K, 2.16 ERA), and starts like these proved that hitters just couldn’t touch that sizzling fastball and devastating changeup:

http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/media/player/mp_tpl_3_1.jsp?w_id=501349&w=2006/open/tp/archive06/061606_minpit_liriano_11kreel_tp_350.wmv&pid=mlb_tp&gid=2006/06/16/minmlb-pitmlb-1&mid=200606161509550&cid=mlb&fid=mlb_tp350&v=2

Yet, come September of ’06, Liriano felt his arm “snap” while out on the mound…

sp_as_2.jpg

Likely due to a violent delivery that put extra strain/torque on his arm, Liriano ended up needing Tommy John surgery on the arm and missed the entire 2007 season.  When he finally made it back in 2008, his early-season outings ended with many conversations like this…

t1_liriano.jpg
 

He did manage to make some quality starts after a long stint in the minor leagues, but the jury was still out as to whether he could even come close to the same type of domination he showed in ’06.

So far this season, Liriano (2-4, 40 IP, 33 K, 5.75 ERA) has had very mixed results.  In some starts he has been very solid (http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?mid=200905054423501&c_id=min), while other times batters have seemed to tee off on him (like most other Twins starting pitchers this year).

Clearly, a little more time is needed to see whether or not Liriano can make a comeback from his arm injury, but let’s not compare him back to his former 2006 self.  He’s trying to dominate again without the violent delivery and wrist motion, and sometimes he has done so, while other times he has struggled.  Remember, Mr. Souhan, if he goes EXACTLY back to his ’06 form, he had better keep up to date on his health insurance premiums.  Personally, I’d rather have him healthy and battling then spectacular but always one pitch away from disaster.

Preview (15-17, 3rd, 3.0 GB DET): Armando Galarraga (3-2, 4.08) vs. Kevin Slowey (4-1, 5.50).  We’re only three games out?!  What a division!

MLB Predictions: 2009

1908Cubs.jpgEach year, usually after receiving the Sports Illustrated Baseball Preview issue, I make a complete set of MLB picks.  It’s always fun to look back at them and see how right/wrong (wrong far outnumbering the right!) I was at the end of the season.  Here they are for ’09:

AL East:

Boston

Tampa Bay (Wild Card)

New York

Toronto

Baltimore

AL Central:

Minnesota

Chicago

Kansas City

Cleveland

Detroit

AL West:

Los Angeles

Texas

Seattle

Oakland

NL East:

Philadelphia

New York (Wild Card)

Florida

Atlanta

Washington

NL Central:

Chicago

Milwaukee

St. Louis

Cincinnati

Houston

Pittsburgh

NL West:

Los Angeles

Arizona

San Francisco

Colorado

San Diego

AL Champion: Boston

NL Champion: Chicago

World Series Champion: Chicago

So, after 100 long seasons of waiting, I think this is the year that the Cubbies will finally win the big one.  I just think that their pitching is too good not to make a deep playoff run.

One Last Shot

Shef.jpgAt the beginning of this 2008, the Detroit Tigers were many people’s consensus pick to win the AL Central division going away.  With a lineup that featured Ivan Rodriguez, Placido Polanco, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Guillen, Edgar Rentaria, Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez, and Gary Sheffield (pictured above), people wondered how opposing pitchers would get through an inning against those guys, much less an entire season.  Plus, young pitchers like Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, and Nate Robertson would likely take the next step in their development, while old hand Kenny Rogers and newcomer Dontrelle Willis would anchor the top of the rotation.  Add in fireballing relievers Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney, and the Tigers would surely win at least 100 games, right?!  Well, then the season started…

The Tigers got off to a 2-10 start in the regular season, and never really recovered from that shock.  In late July, Detroit was 5.0 games behind the AL Central division leader, but never got any closer than that the rest of the way.  The bats (as most power-laden lineups are) went through tremendous hot and cold spells, while the starting pitching was atrocious from the get-go and didn’t improve much from there.  Then, because of starters not going deep into games, the relievers were overworked, overstressed, and ultimately burnt out.  Yesterday, the end of the MLB season for most clubs, the Tigers finished 74-87, locking in perhaps the most disappointing season in baseball history.

Yet, the Tigers aren’t quite done yet…due to a rainout in Chicago earlier this month, a final game between the two clubs (being delayed by rain, fittingly, as I write this blog post) will (hopefully!) take place today, with the outcome determining the fate of the AL Central.  A Tiger win will put the (my) Twins in the postseason, while a Tiger loss will set up a one-game playoff between the Twins and White Sox.

Now, one would think that the Tigers, beat up and dejected from a terrible season, would just as well want to roll over and play dead today (especially in the rainy weather).  However, two factors contribute to the contest that (hopefully, being a Twins fan!) will cause the Tigers to play with a bit of passion: First, old Sock Freddy Garcia will be pitching against his former club, which always gets the juices flowing.  Second, a win will move the Tigers out of last place in the division (hopping Kansas City) and, while not a huge victory, will at least not allow the pundits to call the club a last-place team.

So, I say to all you Tigers now: Get those bats going, find some pitching for just one day, and knock off a team at the top of the division that is fighting to get where you wanted to go.  Go Tigers!!

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